Thursday, May 30, 2019

Wijngaards Institute May Communion excerpts. Neileke Wijngaards, A Woman Called to Diaconate Speaks Out About Her Call, Qualifications, and Ministry of Deacons

Nelleke Wijngaards Serrarens MA Social Sciences.
She is married to Aloys Wijngaards, an ordained deacon.
Both Nelleke and Aloys have taught at the Diaconate Formation Institute in Driebergen in The Netherlands.

"The research about women deacons by the Wijngaards Institute is very impressive and inspiring. It gives hope and perspective to all women who would like to serve God and the people as deacons: as servant leaders and connectors between Church and society, especially between Church and people in need.

In this context I would like to share my experience with the issue of women's diaconate, via examples of groups of women.

1. During my 25 years’ staffwork at the Diaconate Formation Institute, I met a lot of wives of deacons. They joined their husbands in the full four years’ formation process, supporting them as future deacons. Several of them experienced the diaconate vocation themselves.

2. As the general representative of deacons' wives I functioned for 12 years as board member at the International Diaconate Centre, located in Germany. When I conducted the international research project ‘Partners in Solidarity’, the same question emerged from wives of deacons all over the world. Although they were socially engaged in all sorts of activities in their parishes and in society and were well educated, they could not be ordained as deacons, because of their being women.

3. In fact, female parishioners especially already perform a lot of impressive diaconal work in many parishes. Several of them possess all the qualities required for deacons. It would be a blessing for the Church and society in general if these women could be ordained.

4. Last but not least, in the Netherlands we have not only male but also female ‘pastoral workers’. They are theologically qualified. They work full-time for the Church. Often they do the same work as their ordained colleagues. Several of the male pastoral workers have become deacons, but their female colleagues – with the same qualities – are barred from being ordained.

It is really very sad and unjust that it is not possible for all these dedicated and capable women to be ordained deacons. Are we not all created children of God, women and men in equality? Is God not asking all of us to involve ourselves in a life of dedication to other people, to serve the needs of especially the most vulnerable?

Most women who experience a call to the diaconate are highly qualified for the diaconate ministry. They excel in being go-betweens, networkers, fostering solidarity, organising groups that engage in social and charitable activities, motivating people to bring their faith into action – thus creating a society of greater mercy and justice, to the blessing of all. Let us hope and pray that these motivated women can be ambassadors of hope and justice as ordained deacons in the near future.

Moya St Leger is a journalist and long time campaigner for womens diaconate. She is currently
battling with cancer, which makes her story so poignant

I want to be a deacon. When I put myself forward to a bishop to be considered as a candidate for the permanent diaconate, I received a one-sentence reply turning me down. I was rejected because I am the wrong sex. The bishop’s letter simply informed me that “the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain ladies to the diaconate”. No reason given. No canons quoted.

I want to be an ordained servant of Jesus Christ in the Community at the disposal of my bishop. I want to function alongside those with a mandate
from the Church to teach, to lead, and to sanctify. The bishops of England and Wales have stated: “Being an ordained minister lends authority to the position and work of the deacon”. I should like to be included. Most clergy are perplexed if the subject crops up in conversation. Few have thought about it at all. One venerable priest knew all about women deacons in the early Church but argued that the only reason for women ministers was that they had been necessary for reasons of propriety in early Christian Society. In other words, there have been social reasons for women deacons. Are there none today?

It is to the deep spiritual and emotional needs of women, which they can sometimes only share between themselves, that a woman deacon could
minister. Mediating a different image of God, she could inspire another kind of ministry. And a Church that can be experienced as hostile to women needs a visible embodiment to the blessing God gave to female creation. Another priest told me it was major orders women would have “to crack”. And Canon Law is
unambiguous: “Only a baptised man can validly receive sacred ordination” (CAN.1024). My response to this argument is that theology on women must change first, then canon law can be amended. As long as the Church’s teaching implies that the incarnation of God as a male necessarily renders female nature inaccessible to the grace of major orders, canon law can stand unchallenged.

Everyone knows that there have been ordained women deacons. Does it have to be left to an ordinary lay woman to declare the theological arguments
against the restoration of female ministry unsound, and the appeal to authority unfaithful to tradition? Our Church is too old and too wise to be clinging
to such nonsense. Though I may not live to see it, women will become deacons. The only question left worth considering is - When?"

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